What We’re Reading: Ivy + Bean and The Empty Pot

Two lovely Early Elementary books are reviewed this week for your What We’re Reading Wednesday:

Early Elementary

from Jean-Marie Maier

ivyandbeanWhen Bean’s mother suggests to Bean that she play with Ivy, the new girl across the street, Bean answers with a big fat “no thanks.”  Ivy and Bean are both seven years old, but to Bean that’s where the similarities end.

Ivy always has her nose in a book.  Reading makes Bean jumpy.  Ivy wears dresses and accessorizes with a sparkly headband.  Bean only wears a dress when her mother makes her.  Ivy’s good girl status equaled BORING in Bean’s mind.  No doubt about it.  Bean was sure Ivy didn’t know the first thing about having fun.

But as the old adage goes: never judge a book (or in this case a bookworm) by its cover.

Everything changed when Bean decided to play a clever little trick on her bossy, 11-year-old sister Nancy.  Just as Bean was sure she was going to get in big trouble for multiple counts of mischief, Ivy came to her rescue.

The girls quickly bonded over a collaborative plan to put a spell on Nancy that would make her dance for the rest of her life.  (Yes, the plan is as entertaining as it sounds.)  The spell wouldn’t get Bean out of trouble, but she sure thought it would be funny.

Turns out Ivy wasn’t as good or as boring as Bean had thought.  She was actually pretty interesting with her really cool sectioned-off room and her witch spells and potions.

But like children sometimes do when left to their own devices, Ivy and Bean create quite a bit of mischief.  To some parents their antics could be cringeworthy, but to me and my 6-year-old daughter it served as fodder for lots of laughs and animated conversations.

When Nancy’s nasty teasing very nearly brings Ivy to tears, Bean is furious with her sister and throws a handful of worms at her face.  This type of behavior shouldn’t be celebrated, but Bean’s loyalty to Ivy should.  In fact, Ivy and Bean’s escalating high jinks are often a result of their allegiance to their newfound friendship.  With mean girls and cliques so often the topics du jour, it has been refreshing to read a series about an uncompromised friendship between two young girls.

Ivy + Bean by Annie Barrows is a great chapter book (and series) for the young female reader.  It features many topics and complex feelings for parents to discuss with their daughters.  And Ivy and Bean’s sense of adventure and fearless ability to tackle problems on their own is something to be admired.

Finally, I would be remiss not to mention the quirky illustrations by Sophie Blackall that perfectly complement Barrow’s writing.  With an illustration on every page, readers won’t be able to stop themselves from thumbing through the entire book even before reading the first word.  And after that illustrative preview, you won’t want to put the book down until you’re finished reading it.

from Emily (The Pilot’s Wife)

The Empty Pot CoverThe Empty Pot by Demi is an incredibly beautiful tale about a young boy from China whose special talent is making plants grow.  So when the Emperor declares that he will have a contest to see who can grow the most beautiful plant from his seeds, Ping hurries to join.  The Emperor also declares that the winner of the contest will be the next to rule the kingdom.

Ping takes his seeds home and carefully plants them in rich soil, watering and tending the seeds with the utmost care.  But for all his attention, the seeds produce nothing.  Not even a single bud.

On the day the contest is to be judged, Ping takes his empty pot to the palace.  On his way he passes the other contestants, all with beautiful flowering plants, and Ping knows he will not win.

Surprisingly, when all the children are gathered with their lovely plants (and Ping with his empty pot) the Emperor announces that it is Ping who has won.  Why?  Because all the seeds that the Emperor distributed were boiled and thus would not produce plants of any kind.  Ping was the only one who was honest and brought exactly what he had grown from the Emperor’s seeds: an empty pot.

This story is a favorite of mine for several reasons.  It is a lovely example of Chinese folk art and culture, and the story line rings true and non-preachy about the importance of honesty.  It could also tie in with a science lesson on seeds and plants, and the teacher in me just loves a good cross-curricular book!

Children and adults alike will be delighted by the unexpected turn of events, rich cultural background, and beautiful artwork.

This one is a keeper!